At The Synagogue In Capernaum (Mark 1)

“They *went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Jesus was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, but it seems that He chose Capernaum as His home during His ministry (cf. Mark 2:1, Matthew 4:13). The Lord’s teachings were summarily rejected in His own hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-31) thus sending Him elsewhere to establish His base of operations, as it were. Capernaum was a much more prominent city within the region, serving as a commercial center for the Galilean fishing industry and billeting a Roman garrison. Jesus’ words and actions within the synagogue here elicited a very different response from that in Nazareth. For in this city the people were amazed, not enraged, by His preaching.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all reference Capernaum as the location where Christ’s ministry really began; particularly His miracles. And Mark and Luke both focus on the Lord’s activities within the city’s synagogue as its point of origin. The Gospel of Mark paints the portrait of Jesus Christ the Servant of God, but the writer is also dutiful to establish His authority over all matters, physical and spiritual. The Servant, Jesus Christ, is also the Creator and, as such, retains all power and authority over His own creation.

Within the very first chapter of Mark, we see Christ’s authority over sickness (vv. 31 and 34), disease (vv. 41-42), the demonic (v. 25), and even Satan himself (v. 13). Jesus teaches with authority, Mark records, expositing authoritatively His own Word and Scriptures. Verse 22 highlights the fact that the Jewish religious scholars of the day taught by the authority of those who preceded them, quoting and referencing the masters of Judaic theology who had lived in times past, never daring to presume the weight of their own rhetoric with their listeners. Yet the Lord Jesus Christ was the very Author of the Words on which He commented! He alone retained the prerogative of resting on His own authority when teaching on their meaning.

Mark will reveal throughout his Gospel that the authority of Jesus Christ is complete and total over all His creation. He commands the winds and the seas and they obey Him (Mark 4:41). He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). Even death itself must yield to the authority of the Lord Jesus (Mark 5:41-42). By the time the reader gets to the Resurrection of Jesus, there should remain no doubt in their mind that the One Whose authority was pervasive over all other aspects of His own creation could just as easily conquer the grave.

 “And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:23-24 KJV)

First, let us consider where the man possessed by the unclean spirit was. Was he imbibing strong drink with the drunkards at a tavern? Was he visiting with a harlot at a house of prostitution? Or perhaps conspiring with thieves and murderers in the dens where such men hide? No. He was in the synagogue! Let us never suppose that Satan and his minions lurk only in the shadows and frequent the places where evil is openly practiced. Their work of deception is carried out within the places of worship; it is the houses of God where the forces of Hell battle for control of the hearts of people. Of all places on earth, where was the devil on the eve of Christ’s crucifixion? He was not in Herod’s palace or Pilate’s judgment hall. Nor was he in the meeting place with the Sanhedrin as they conspired to arrest the Lord. Neither was he in the prison cell with Barabbas or the two thieves whose destinies would intersect with the Lord’s. No, he was in the upper room with Jesus and His disciples as they celebrated the Passover and partook of the Last Supper (John 13:27).

The demon then challenges Jesus with the words, “What have we to do with Thee?” This expression can be found in the Old Testament as a call for justification on the part of an aggressor by the one who is being threatened. Jephthah’s envoy asks a similar question of the Ammonites in Judges 11:12. David used the phrase to Abishai to stay his hand when he sought to vindicate the king’s honor when Shimei cursed him (2 Samuel 16:10). And the widow spoke like words to Elijah, fearing that he had been sent by God to torment her by convicting her of sin through the death of her son (1 Kings 17:18).

Even so, we also sense within the demon’s query a sort of recognition of the vast chasm which exists between the Kingdom of Light and that of darkness. The Apostle Paul, speaking of marriage between believers and non-believers, would reflect this sentiment in his axiom, “What fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). There exists such a huge expanse between the Lord Jesus Christ and this simple foot soldier in the army of Hell that the demon himself must have been astonished to suddenly be thrust into the presence of God Almighty. The unclean spirit seemed to be aware of his own fate, and that of his fellow fallen angels, by asking if this was the time set aside for his destruction at the hands of the Lord.

Finally, we have what might be the most potentially confusing aspect of this entire encounter (along with subsequent encounters between Jesus and the demonic, such as those mentioned in verse 34). Why would Jesus silence the demons who recognized Him and declared Who He was? Wouldn’t He welcome their testimony verifying His identity? I believe there are two reasons why He disallowed their “witness.”

First, Jesus would fulfill His purposes according to the will of the Father and based on His own timing and methods. Jesus did nothing haphazardly and without purpose and specific motive. He could have just as easily arrived on the scene, shouting from the rooftops, “I am the Messiah, the Holy One of God!” But Jesus’ purpose in casting out the demon was to reveal His authority, not His divinity. He sought to verify His teachings through His miracles so that people would first believe what He said and would trust Him based on that. Later would come the Holy Spirit’s authentication within the heart of Who Jesus really was (cf. Matthew 16:17). Jesus came, not as the conquering King, but as the suffering Servant and He would draw people to Himself through His words and His work of Salvation. Jesus did not come to force people into submission through the declaration of His power as God. We looked at the Lord Jesus’ exercise of authority over many things, but never do we see Him exercising His authority over the hearts and will of men.

Secondly, Jesus neither wanted nor needed the testimony of Hell. James reminds us that the demons know and acknowledge Who Jesus is and they tremble because of it (James 2:19). But their concession is made, not in faith, but merely as the recognition of that which is true. They are not trusting on Christ nor believing Him for Salvation, they simply are making a mental assent to the fact of Jesus’ divinity. Make no mistake, when a demon cries out in recognition of Jesus’ identity, it is for his own evil purposes. He is not paying homage to Christ as Lord, but is seeking to frustrate the purposes of God.

But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”” (Matthew 9:34)

“The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” ” (John 8:48)

Jesus would have enough accusations brought against Him that He was in league with Satan. He did not need demons going about “witnessing” for Him. The Apostle Paul had a similar motivation when he cast out the demon from the slave-girl possessed by a spirit of divination (Acts 16:16-18). The demon was accurately testifying that Paul and his companions had come to preach the Way of Salvation. But Paul cast out the demon, silencing its testimony because he did not want or need the help of Satan and his minions as he sought to make converts in a land which had not yet heard the Gospel.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published Jan. 8, 2015]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible  (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]

Fishers Of Men (Mark 1)

 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-17)
As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:16-17)

We know by comparing John’s Gospel with Mark’s that the Lord Jesus had first made contact with Andrew and Peter prior to the events recorded in Mark 1: 16-20. John 1:35-42 reveals that Jesus had met the first of His disciples shortly after His Baptism and prior to His Temptation in the Wilderness. Thus the calling of the first four apostles in Mark 1 is to be differentiated from their initial coming to Christ.

Mark’s Gospel records the call to service and discipleship of the two sets of brothers, not the call to Salvation. It is their invitation to ministry and the office of apostleship (though they certainly knew not at this time to what end their call to follow the Master would lead).

With this in mind, let us consider a few features of this portion of Mark’s narrative with regard to the call of the Lord Jesus to serve Him:

First, it is the Lord Jesus Who calls people into service, it is not something that people simply decide to do on their own. Notice that it was Jesus Who came to them and told them to follow. Although they pursued Him in the first encounter in John’s Gospel, they were simply going about their business here. To want to serve the Lord is a commendable virtue and one that every Christian should possess to one degree or another. But we must never think for a moment that the desire to serve is a product of our own ingenuity. If Jesus had not come to the fishermen, they would have continued doing what they were doing.

Before we endeavor into any form of ministry, it is wise to make certain that we are following the Lord’s calling and not pursuing our own agenda by means of that ministry. I am hesitant to discourage any Christian from serving the Lord in any legitimate capacity, for truly the harvest is great and the workers few, but many a preacher has seen their ministry shipwreck simply because they had never listened to the Lord’s calling and had decided to enter into a vocation that God had never intended for them. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, it was not uncommon for talented students to be encouraged to enter the ministry because it was viewed as a desirable profession, one that would keep a person indoors and out of the elements while affording ample leisure time and a respectable salary. In other words, people would become clergymen, not to serve God and His people, but because it was a “good job” to have.

There are many, many ways in which a Christian may serve the Lord and He intends for every one of His children to do so. But it is important that we make sure that we are answering His calling on our lives, not attempting to serve Him in our own strength.

Which brings us to the fact that Jesus told the disciples that He would make them become fishers of men. He would do it. God has never called anyone to serve Him in their own strength and ability. His callings always carry with them the qualifier that it is He Who will strengthen and enable the person He is calling to carry out the work. “Apart from Me you can do nothing“, Jesus would tell the disciples (John 15:5). It is only through Christ that a person may really serve the Lord; but this should bring comfort, not despair. This means that whatever service God has called us into He will also give us the strength and ability to carry it out.

Next, let us consider that little word become in our Lord’s call to the would-be apostles. “I will make you become fishers of men.” This carries with it the implication that it is a process that will occur over time. Jesus did not say that if they followed Him He would instantly fill them with the skills to be successful. No, their ministries as apostles were filled with moments of doubt, fear, reluctance, and failure. Their pride would often overshadow their faith as the fishers of men seemed more interested in who was the greater fisherman than in actually casting their nets into the water. But in all these things the Lord Jesus was not yet done with them and He would ultimately finish the work in them which He had started.

Finally, we have that wonderful little word of which Mark the evangelist is so fond: immediately. James A. Brooks writes in the New American Commentary, “The disciples do not again appear in so favorable light as they do here”*. The fishermen immediately leave their nets and answer the call of the Lord. Verse 20 tells us that James and John left their father, Zebedee, with the hired workers and utterly abandoned their vocation in order to pursue another. What a perfect response for a child of God! The sons of Zebedee were not being rash or irresponsible, no, the family business would continue without them by means of the laborers employed by their father. But they were being wise and prudent, recognizing that the Lord of Heaven desired to use them for a far greater purpose.

The Lord Jesus has a calling to service and ministry for everyone who belongs to Him. For most Christians, this calling is realized within the context of their local church. To serve our brothers and sisters in Christ by teaching a Sunday School class, singing in the choir or playing an instrument, baby-sitting in the nursery, giving financially to missions work, or joining the prayer team are among the many ways that God calls His people to serve. Sometimes, He even calls us to write a Bible study blog.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published Dec. 29, 2014]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible  (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

*New American Commentary, Volume 23: Mark. Brooks, James A. –  General Editor: Dockery, David S. (c) 1992 by Broadman & Holman Publishers. All rights reserved.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]

Jesus Driven Into The Wilderness (Mark 1)

“Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness.  And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” (Mark 1:12-13)

Absent from Mark’s account of the Lord Jesus’ temptation are the details of how Satan sought to entice Him. There is no description given of the dialogue recorded both in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels between Jesus and the devil. But two interesting features are present in Mark’s version which we do not find in the others.

The Holy Spirit Drove Jesus Into The Wilderness

A different term is used by Mark than Matthew or Luke. While the other two state that the Lord was led by the Spirit, Mark says that He was driven (or impelled in the NASB) by the Spirit. At first glance, these words might not seem to significantly differ, but Mark’s expression has a much stronger meaning than those of the other two writers. While Matthew and Luke employed a root word meaning that Jesus was essentially guided into the Wilderness, Mark described the Lord as literally being cast out!

Obviously, we know that the Lord went willingly where the Holy Spirit brought Him, but the idea of the Lord being driven brings to mind a much greater sense of urgency and compulsion. It was the will of God that Jesus go out into that desert place to face the enemy and the path upon which the Lord was to walk led straight through the wilderness. The Spirit brought Him there immediately and without delay right into the face of temptation.

The Wild Beasts Were With Him

No other Gospel writer felt the importance of including this detail and it is initially puzzling that Mark would feel the need to. For we would assume that wild animals are present in a desert and wilderness place, wouldn’t we? Bible expositors disagree on whether the wild beasts are to be understood as instruments in the hand of Satan being used to enhance our Lord’s torment or are to be grouped with the ministering angels who safeguarded Him from harm. Some suggest that Mark mentions the animals simply to underscore the desolation and loneliness of the place of Jesus’ trials. But I wonder if the Holy Spirit wasn’t inspiring the Gospel writer to illustrate a different picture.

That the wild beasts were in league with Satan seems highly unlikely since the Lord Jesus is shown again and again to be in complete control over all of His creation. This is the One Whom even the winds and seas obey (Mark 4:41). Additionally, while the angels would certainly have been able to strengthen and refresh our Lord, assisting Him in an hour of physical weakness by serving Him sustenance at the conclusion of the forty days in a place where little vegetation grows, of what help would the animals be? We were told that John the Baptist fed on wild locusts, but we are not told that Jesus actually ate the wild beasts to end His fast.

The wild beasts do, however, remind us of another place in Scripture where their presence was significant and that is the Garden of Eden. After all, the Garden of Eden was the place of temptation for the First Adam and here we have the temptation of the Second Adam. The Apostle Paul compares Jesus Christ, the infallible Man, with Adam, the fallen man, even calling Jesus the “Last Adam” (e.g., Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:45-47). Christ is shown to have overcome where Adam failed and the response of each one is sharply contrasted here in the face of Jesus’ temptation.

Yet this is no paradise where the Lord faces His trial. The docile creatures of Eden are replaced by the wild beasts of the Wilderness and the lush, green garden filled with trees bearing sumptuous fruits is nowhere to be seen amongst the arid sands of the desert. The stain of sin has marred the perfect creation of God and the place where Jesus faces Satan is much different from that where Adam encountered him. The Spirit of the Lord drove man away from Paradise after he sinned (Genesis 3:24) and He drove Christ into a fallen and corrupted “paradise” to succeed in the very way in which Adam had failed.

The Beloved Son Is Driven Into The Wilderness

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:” (1 Peter 4:12)

We should consider one final thing about this passage of Scripture. Mark 1:11 ends with the words, “You are my beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased“, while the very next sentence begins, “Immediately the Spirit *impelled Him to go out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). God permits those whom He loves to be tried and tempted. The trials that we face and the temptations that we endure are not a sign that we are out of the will of God, no, they are usually indicators of just the opposite. Testing and temptation are never viewed in Scripture as a punishment or something which afflicts the wicked, but as something which proves the people of God. We often wonder why God permits the trials and tribulations of this life to come upon us, yet the Word clearly warns us that we will face them (cf. John 16:33).

The Father put His sign of approval on Jesus at His baptism and declared Him to be His beloved Son in Whom He is well-pleased. And what was the very next thing that God did? Send Jesus somewhere peaceful and quiet where He could enjoy all the luxuries and comforts of life? No. He sent Him right into a place where He would be confronted by Satan! The Father sent the Son to a dry, arid, and lonely place without even food or water for comfort. Yet the Father was well-pleased with the Son in all ways.

Let us not think it strange when we face our own trials and temptations, supposing that our Father has disowned us or has become displeased with us. Perhaps we have committed some grievous sin and moved ourselves out from under His hand of protection by our own foolish choices, though we never cease to be His children. Or perhaps we are standing exactly in the place where the Spirit has driven us because He loves us enough to allow us to be tested, that His faithfulness through trials be proven in our own hearts.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published July 23, 2014]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible  (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]